Frank Lautenberg, oldest US senator, dies


Late U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) (2nd L) spoke during a news conference after a vote on the Superstorm Sandy Relief Bill January 28, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.


Alex Wong

One of the lawmakers who helped ban smoking on airplanes has died. Frank R. Lautenberg, a Democrat who represented New Jersey, was also the last remaining World War II veteran serving on the United States Senate.

He grew up poor in Paterson but eventually became a multimillionaire and New Jersey's longest-serving US senator.  He died Monday at the age of 89.

His death creates a vacancy in the Senate that Republican Gov. Christie is expected to fill through appointment.

In his life, Lautenberg had a fascinating career. During his five terms in the Senate, he helped pass laws raising the drinking age, ending smoking on planes and funding mass transit. He was first elected in an upset victory in 1982, financed through his own money. 

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He retired from Congress in 2000, but returned to his old seat just two years later. 

Before entering politics, he co-founded Automatic Data Processing, one of the largest payroll services firms in the world. His health began failing in recent months, but he stayed in politics until the end. 

In fact, he was campaigning just last week for Congress to pass a bill that would establish a $5 billion fund for bridge repair and other infrastructure projects.   

"Far too many bridges across the country and in my home state of New Jersey are aging and in urgent need of repair," he told The Canadian Press last Tuesday.